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Happy Monday, TJRWrestling faithful! Foreign object à gogo last week on Raw, with Seth Rollins and Jinder Mahal wielding chairs, Elias swinging his guitar and Braun Strowman chucking a ladder at Kevin Owens. With Money in the Bank close now, it’s clearly the season. Welcome to the Week In Preview for World Wrestling Entertainment, June 4th 2018.

Raw (Toyota Center, Houston TX)

Announced: Finn Balor vs Kevin Owens, Braun Strowman vs Bobby Roode and Nia Jax vs Natalya (non-title). Also, a tag team battle royal to name the number one contenders to the Raw Tag Team Championships.

What to expect: With this Monday and next Monday remaining for Raw before Money in the Bank, we’re now firmly into the routine of having the ladder match participants face off against each other. The matches featuring Balor, Owens, Strowman and Roode follow a couple last week and, Strowman continuing to look strong aside, may offer up more four-way intrigue. At least it should mean Strowman is too busy to win the tag team battle royal this time around, with Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel seemingly most prominent among the possible challengers to The Deleters of Worlds (though I still wonder if that isn’t the end goal of Drew McIntyre and Dolph Ziggler’s pairing).

Natalya has seemingly gone from the leading role in Ronda Rousey’s first program with regular roster talent to a supporting role; Rousey is due on the show tonight and a Nia Jax victory in the announced match looks most likely. Expect Seth Rollins to seek payback on Elias for last week’s sneak attack (an Intercontinental Championship match between the two is now set for Money in the Bank). And although Jinder Mahal technically won his match with Rollins by disqualification last week, any hopes of getting another shot may be dashed by Roman Reigns being due to return with Mahal in his sights. Sasha Banks has filled the final Raw spot in the women’s Money in the Bank match, so may come into the orbit of fellow contenders Ember Moon and Alexa Bliss, while Sami Zayn and Bobby Lashley will gamely continue to stoke a passable feud.

Spotlight: I really hope that little joke above about Braun Strowman winning a tag team battle royal by himself again doesn’t turn out to be unintentionally prophetic. Granted, Nicholas should be on his school holidays pretty imminently, so the timing (if nothing else) would fit nicely for a second championship reign over the summer. As cute and heartwarming as the WrestleMania angle was, though, it did a bit of a disservice to the other talent in the Raw tag team division; however it seems the bigger crime (yet growing) is that rehabilitation of the said division has been painfully slow since then.

No, in all seriousness Strowman won’t be anywhere near this battle royal, but the lineup of teams that we might expect to contest it does not inspire great confidence in a compelling challenge to The Deleters of Worlds at Money in the Bank. The cast of last week’s ‘Memorial Day Tag Team Barbecue’ will probably cover the principal talent involved here too, and it’s not that I’m no fan of Breezango, The Ascension, Heath Slater and Rhyno or Titus Worldwide – I’ve got time for all of them – it’s just that I’m not moved to enthusiasm for seeing any of them win or lose a championship match at this point. They’re supporting cast. They’re the comic relief or the endearing guy who dies first in the horror movie; they do not feel like contenders.

If anybody from last week’s skit feels like being positioned as contenders, it is of course The B-Team of Bo Dallas and Curtis Axel. Again though, and I feel this is possibly a bit of my cynicism coming in from having watched so much pro wrestling turned out by Titan Towers over the years, we can determine this through passive observation (i.e. the recent regularity of their appearances on programming, upward trajectory, dominance of microphone time in the segment, ending it as the ones standing tall). Do they actually feel like contenders though? They launched off the back of a stint as The Miz’s highly-disposable flunkies, gave themselves a self-deprecatory team name and have muddled on from there. There has been no great revelation.

For The Revival – who were at last week’s barbecue – and The Authors of Pain – who weren’t and haven’t been on Monday night programming for a little while now – there are no such problems of being pitched as serious contenders with competitiveness in their DNA, but there are serious problems of momentum for both to overcome. The Revival’s win-loss record on the main roster is poor and, although there’s only so much one can read into something like that, stringing a few wins together is something that a team with their gimmick really needs to be doing to show some legitimacy. The problem the Authors have is much simpler, in that they’ve not been seen on TV in weeks.

The hottest pairing on Raw right now, mixing style, substance and the sort of run of form needed to set up a compelling match is Dolph Ziggler and Drew McIntyre. They would be my pick for a surprise entry in and winners of tonight’s battle royal. Even then, however, their opponents could also be better-rounded characters right now. Champions Matt Hardy and Bray Wyatt have an interesting story to tell – Wyatt’s conversion and how it fits into the Hardy lore – but the rich imagination of Hardy family content has largely taken a back seat to token promos and non-title squashes in recent weeks. The Raw tag division needs a shot of energy right now, from the top down.

SmackDown Live (American Bank Center, Corpus Christi TX)

Announced: Charlotte Flair vs Becky Lynch. Naomi & Jimmy Uso vs Lana & Aiden English in a mixed tag match. A contract signing for the upcoming WWE Championship match between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura.

What to expect: The match between Flair and Lynch could be pretty worthwhile here, given the other two SmackDown women competing in the Money in the Bank ladder match are otherwise occupied and there should be no other obstacles to seeing a proper contest. The mixed tag match featuring Lana and Naomi should be a little more worthwhile than last week’s dance-off, while Jimmy Uso and Aiden English will very much be in supporting roles as they have no plans themselves for the pay-per-view. Samoa Joe has joined the men’s Money in the Bank ladder match and may get his teeth into the likes of The Miz or The New Day, while we’re still to find out which member of the latter unit will actually be competing in Chicago.

The program between AJ Styles and Shinsuke Nakamura, with a Last Man Standing match looming at the end of it, has had plenty of talk so far; my money is on this week’s contract signing to end with actions rather than words. Meanwhile Carmella has peddled the line of not being afraid or intimidated by Asuka and has hinted on social media that the cocky badmouthing will continue this week. The Daniel Bryan vs Big Cass rematch has been set for Money in the Bank, while Bryan may be seeking payback for another post-match attack by the big guy. Elsewhere in ongoing stories, The Bludgeon Brothers seem to have the upper hand in mind games over Luke Gallows and Karl Anderson, Andrade ‘Cien’ Almas looks like he’s entering a feud with Sin Cara, and I’m enjoying the sub-plot of General Manager Paige cutting her former Absolution buddies no slack whatsoever.

Spotlight: Charlotte vs Becky this week, then, and in another time and place (2015 and NXT, for example) this would be a highly credible championship match for an August pay-per-view in Brooklyn. It doesn’t look like it will be here, of course. WWE’s main roster women’s division in 2018 is a tough place, with competing priorities and limited time to service them; strong character actors seem the safest bets for title glory, little Japanese hardasses are arriving with unbeaten streaks and great hype and an influx of former MMA talent is the new hot ticket in the company.

Under these circumstances it’s pretty easy to demonstrate that Lynch, of the two women, is currently getting the rougher deal. Flair comfortably has the more recent title reign to her name, despite Lynch arguably being the better character actor (and yes, I realize this is an oversimplification of who does and doesn’t get the WWE spotlight; I’ll come back to the ‘character acting’ issue later). Flair was the one who ended Asuka’s streak, while most educated observers would hold her as pro wrestling’s ‘final boss’ for the code-jumping Ronda Rousey at a future WrestleMania. Lynch’s current outlook is bleaker, as her social media hype for Tuesday’s match betrays.

“Friend, as much as you need it, after sitting on the sidelines for a year, I need it even more.” I’m loathe to say it sounds desperate, but all is not well in the fictional world of the flame-haired one. “The climb back to the top has already started.” Has it? Because that sounds like the kind of thing Dolph Ziggler would’ve said in the past couple of years, before months of wheel-spinning ultimately stretched out before him. Becky Lynch does, at least, have a better chance of winning the eponymous ladder contest at Money in the Bank than Charlotte Flair, if only because Flair doesn’t appear to need it as much.

To come back to this issue of character, it’s the strong suit of the current SmackDown Women’s Champion Carmella – as it is for long-time Raw and SmackDown champion Alexa Bliss – and is clearly highly prized. For both of those women, it’s what propelled them to the top of their division irrespective of questions over the kind of matches they could put on when they got there. Spectacle tends to matter more than content in WWE’s brand of sports entertainment, and Women’s Championship scenes are tending to tick that box first and worry about others later. The entertaining character. The freak of nature. The UFC star. There isn’t always enough oxygen remaining, as we’ve seen with Sasha Banks and Bayley on Raw, to be administered to nice stories of character.

Becky Lynch is creative, humorous, very popular and technically excellent in the ring – but that isn’t always enough. Carmella has so far played her role as champion very well and she remains the focus of the championship feud of this pay-per-view cycle; notice how through backstage promos and sitting in on commentary, it is her who dictates the narrative and the story so far is built upon that perspective and whether Asuka can shatter it. Whoever comes out of that program with the championship, Lynch is another woman currently sitting on the outside looking in. Some big wins in the near future could indeed be crucial if she’s going to return to the focus of storylines any time soon.

Also This Week

A relatively quiet week elsewhere on WWE television in terms of what’s been announced in advance. NXT (Wednesday) has Kairi Sane vs Lacey Evans and Danny Burch vs Roderick Strong. 205 Live (Tuesday) has nothing announced at the time of writing, but with the Money in the Bank card already pretty full and Cedric Alexander successfully seeing off Buddy Murphy, it’ll be interesting to see how the cruiserweight show begins to schedule its next programs.

Three Burning Questions

Some of this week’s most pressing but least publicized talking points. Throw down your answers in the comments section as usual!

  1. Who are you picking to win tonight’s tag team battle royal?
  2. Who do you think will win Charlotte and Becky’s match on Tuesday?
  3. What match at Money in the Bank are you most looking forward to at this point?

Until next week, strap in, enjoy the ride and remember to stick with TJRWrestling.net for your show recaps and analysis.

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